Reality therapy — not to be confused with reality orientation, a therapeutic technique used with people who have dementia — has had significance in my role as a pastoral counselor over the years.
Based on William Glasser’s Choice Theory (originally called Control Theory), his unique concept of human behavior rejects the more common stimulus/response theory, emphasizing that all of our behavior is essentially chosen.
The traffic light turns red, you stop – usually! But sometimes you run it; and if there is someone needing emergency care in your car, you may just slow down, look both ways, and go for it. It’s a choice!
Or – making even more sense currently than when it was first used as an example of such choosing – the phone rings and you answer it, or not, caller ID informing your decision in an age of annoying telemarketers and other spam callers. It’s a choice! You choose whether or not to answer.
Though it sometimes feels like it, neither are automatic responses to an external stimulus like a light or bell. We are not Pavlov’s dog! Nor Jim Graham’s cat!
Robert Wubbolding, Professor Emeritus at Xavier, lays out a simple model for applying Choice Theory for counselors, (though not as simple as one might think in its application). It’s a model that can also function in helping any of us make good choices in various life situations. (See his many books with “Reality Therapy” in the title).
Developed in “WKRP in Cincinnati” days, he calls it “WDEP,” which stands for: 1) What do you WANT?; 2) What are you DOING to get what you want?; 3) What’s your EVALUATION of that?; and, 4) What’s your PLAN going forward?
Since I’m writing four weekly columns, we will look at them one at a time.
In times of concern or anxiety, it helps to take time, think clearly, and narrow it down to, “Just what do I really want, anyway?” beyond my basic need for survival.
A spiritual approach might add, “What is it God wants for me in this instance?” At least, “Is it consistent with something God would want me to think or do or have?” Not easy questions to answer.
Such questions could arise in vocational decisions. Jobs being currently plentiful, which one do you really want? Which one would fulfill a sense of calling? What entry-level position might most likely lead to what you want to do with your life?
For me, personally, the most “fulfilling” and “fun” positions I wanted often meant a temporary cut in compensation. That turned out to be OK, because it enabled me to do things that were fresh and exciting, as well as to put into practice new knowledge or skills I had acquired. It was what I wanted!
The “What do I want?” question is also prevalent in relationships: What kind of person do I want to be? How do I want people to perceive me? With whom do I want to share my life? What characteristics meet my needs and theirs, like “matches made in heaven?”
A decades-long friendship, also now long-distanced, had ended. My friend, with whom I had coached Little League, leading him and his family to membership in the church I served, had suddenly gone silent. He told a mutual friend that we were no longer in touch.
“What happened?” Turns out, that because I had asked, for the sake of our friendship, for him to stop forwarding political propaganda that both insulted and hurt me, that he took it to mean I was shutting down our relationship.
Not the case, of course. I wanted our friendship to continue. That’s what I wanted.
What did I do? More next week!
The WANT question is the basic step to decision-making. What is important to me? What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to be happy or faithful or good?
Do I want to be honest and act with integrity in a particular situation, or do I want to have power and be feared by those I love or am called to lead (read, “serve”)? Do I want to be forgiven, or be forgiving even if it is not reciprocated?
Do I want to do what satisfies me even if it disregards, or could be harmful, to others; or do I want to love my neighbor as myself even if it makes me uncomfortable?
What do you WANT? What would God want you to want?
Next week: What are you DOING to make that happen?
Jim Graham is a retired Presbyterian minister.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.